December 5th 2015

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Well designed same-sex marriage law no solution

CANBERRA OBSERVED Kidman hectares to stay in local hands ... for now

EDITORIAL How to respond to Islamic State's latest outrages

OPINION What's left if Malcolm is in the middle?

LIFE ISSUES Feminists, conservatives unite against surrogacy

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Turnbull government is not serious about defence

HISTORY Geography the great shaper of Taiwan

PHILOSOPHY AND POLITICS Green ideology balances illogic with contradiction

SOCIETY Cultural displacement and the new terrorism

PUBLIC POLICY Cannabis for R&D has precedent in poppy trade

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Swedish daycare: paradigm or cautionary tale? Part I

CINEMA Not your average psychopath: James Bond: Spectre

BOOK REVIEW Fantastical Four


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How to respond to Islamic State's latest outrages

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, December 5, 2015

Islamic State’s synchronised terrorist attacks which killed over 120 people and brought Paris to a standstill last month – coming just a few weeks after the bombing of a Russian passenger plane in Egypt, and followed by threats to bomb Brussels, capital of Belgium – have raised deep concerns about personal safety around the world.

It also raises the question whether the campaign against IS in Syria and Iraq should continue, and more broadly, how the West should respond to these attacks.

kurdish women know how to fight

Kurdish fighters are taking back IS territory.

To answer these complicated questions, it is useful to know something about IS itself. The organisation was established in 2006, having previously existed under a different name as an affiliate of al Qaeda, the organisation headed by Osama bin Laden, until he was killed in Pakistan in 2011.

It is not possible to understand Middle-Eastern politics without being aware of the divisions within these highly traditional societies.

Religious divisions

Democracy, as we understand it, is almost meaningless in the struggle. The most important fissures are those reflecting tribal/ethnic differences (for example, between Arabs, Persians, Kurds and Turks), and the conflicts within Islam between the Sunni, who comprise the majority in most parts of the Arab world, Turkey and Kurdistan, and the predominantly Shia populations of Iran and Iraq.

After the Americans overthrew the Sunni government of Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2006, Sunni Islamists aligned with al Qaeda began a guerilla war to force out the Americans and to overthrow the Shia government that the Americans had installed in Baghdad.

This campaign was characterised by brutal attacks on American forces through the use of improvised explosive devices, a technique which had been developed previously in Afghanistan, and vicious acts of terror against the Shia majority population.

An analysis published in 2011 concluded that at least 12,000 civilians were killed in at least 1,000 suicide bombings in Iraq between 2003 and 2010. The study revealed that suicide bombings killed 60 times as many civilians as soldiers, but IS’s campaign against US forces led Obama to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011.

Following the U.S. withdrawal, Islamic State stepped up its campaign of bombings in Iraq. Thousands more were killed in the capital, Baghdad, and in Shia areas, many through suicide bombings.

With the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, IS began operating in Syria as well as Iraq, and announced the establishment of a caliphate, demanding the allegiance of all Muslims, and enforcing its power through mass murder, rape, robbery, and sophisticated use of the media, including appalling video clips showing assassinations and beheadings of captives.

It raises hundreds of millions of dollars a year from selling oil illegally, ransoms from hostages, people smuggling, and taxes on the estimated 10 million people living in areas it controls in the Sunni areas of Iraq and Syria. There are towns and cities of north-western Iraq and eastern Syria in which IS has complete control.

Its role in destabilising Iraq and Syria, where it is the main anti-government force, has led Western powers, including the U.S., Britain, France and Australia, to launch air attacks against IS, while supporting Kurdish fighters – who are also Sunni Muslims and live in northern Iraq and Turkey – on the ground.

IS uses social media, including Twitter and Facebook, to post videos of its military “successes”, including beheadings of soldiers, civilians, journalists and aid workers. It also uses social media to portray itself as “pure” Islam, and to recruit alienated Muslim youth from around the world to its cause.

It has recruiters in many countries, including Australia, who have set up secret “cells” of members, and it has recruited some thousands of young Muslims to go to Syria to participate in the IS butchery.

Some of these people have returned to Western countries, including some of those involved in the Paris attack.

The recent acts of terror, like earlier attacks in several Western capitals (including Paris itself), should have been anticipated. There was clearly a massive failure by French intelligence agencies, bordering on complacency, before the attacks.

Apart from good intelligence – including interception of electronic communications, and monitoring of Facebook and Twitter accounts – the cooperation of members of the Muslim community to inform law enforcement authorities of suspicious activity is absolutely essential.

Most planned attacks have been averted through information supplied by law-abiding members of the Muslim community. Winning and keeping their trust is an important means of combating Islamist extremism.

Blaming the “Muslim community” for these acts of terror will discourage Muslims from cooperating with security and intelligence agencies, which we rely on to keep us safe.

Additionally, governments should cancel the citizenship of Muslims who travel to Syria or northern Iraq, and refuse to allow anyone who has travelled to these countries back into Australia.

Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.

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